MUSIC-lovers have just over a month to raise £80,000 to save Oxford’s last independent music venue.

The Cellar, in Frewin Court, off Cornmarket, is one of the oldest gig venues in Europe, with bands performing in the basement club, and its predecessor, for more than 45 years.

However, in June the club was dealt a crippling blow by Oxfordshire County Council inspectors, who said the venue’s 70cm fire escape was 30cm too narrow. They ordered it to cut the number of people it allows in from 150 to just 60, making it unviable as a live music venue.

Oxford Mail:

It is set to close on December 3 unless it can raise money to widen the exit and make up for lost earnings.

Some of Oxford’s biggest stars have backed a crowdfunding appeal to save the club which will launch on Monday. They include Radiohead drummer Philip Selway, Gaz Coombes formerly of Supergrass, Mark Gardener of Ride and members of Foals – who started off there.

The appeal comes a year after the club fought off a bid by its owners to close it down and turn it into a store room. More than 13,600 supporters, including musicians and politicians, backed a petition to fight the application by St Michael’s and All Saints’ Charities who had applied to Oxford City Council for permission to redevelop the basement venue into storage space for the shop space above, previously occupied by cosmetics store Lush.

READ AGAIN: Why could cellar close?

Indie-rock band Foals played some of their earliest gigs at The Cellar and have gone on to global stardom, headlining Reading Festival and being near the top of the bill on Glastonbury’s famous Pyramid stage and with a Q Award for Best Live Act. Members said it was vital as a venue for established acts but also as a platform for the bands of the future. Frontman Yannis Philippakis said: “Oxford’s best small venue is under threat. It’s also my childhood bar and the place Foals first learned to rock out.”

Drummer Jack Bevan said: “The Cellar was one of the places where it all began for us.... keep it open.”

Former bassist Walter Gervers said: “It’s probably the venue that members of my band have been thrown out of more times than we’ve played. Quite an accolade! Long may it continue for all to enjoy real gold shows in the most intimate of settings.”

Philip Selway, who lives near Oxford, has donated a signed drum used on tour and to record Radiohead’s Mercury Prize-nominated album In Rainbows. It is being sold for £5,000 on the club’s crowdfunder page.

He said: “The Cellar is an important part of the musical and cultural life of Oxford. It is venues like this that are actually the life blood of music; they support and nurture new and emerging talent. Also with its history of hosting bands like Foals and The National and Mumford and Sons, there’s an extra incentive as a performer to raise your game so this all adds up to memorable performances in a great venue. Let's not lose it.”

READ AGAIN: Club fights off bid to turn Cellar into store room

Gaz Coombes said: “Small venues are so important. I remember starting out in ’93 with my first band The Jennifers. We played what was then called The Dolly – now The Cellar. We wouldn’t have got anywhere without these small venues, they’re really important for building up the vibe of a band when they’re first starting out. It would be just disastrous if it wasn’t able to continue.”

Mark Gardener of the band Ride said: “The Cellar is a legendary Oxford venue which has been running for years. So many acts, both international and local, have played in this venue. Being at the heart of the Oxford music scene, it has hosted so much diverse talent and been a launch pad for many local acts who have gone on to see global acclaim. It’s so important that we don’t lose venues such as this in Oxford.”

Artists and promoters have donated golden gig tickets, T-shirts, and private performances to the appeal. The club is also inviting people to become patrons.

Oxford Mail: Tim Hopkins, manager of The Cellar, with the poster released in support of the campaign to save the venue. Picture by Tim Hughes

Venue manager Tim Hopkins said: “It was people power that saved The Cellar last year, and that showed me how much the community care about this place and how important it is to keep it alive.

“We’ve always been proud of the opportunities we can provide to local and national musicians to hone their craft, as well as seeing budding promoters, bar managers and technical crew come up through the ranks, and providing a warm friendly space for people to come together and let off some steam.

“Running a small venue these days is not a money maker, and sadly, with the extent of the renovations we’ve been asked to make, we simply don’t have the money to pay for them – which is why we’re calling on people power again with this crowdfunding campaign. As well as our own passion to keep going, we owe it to all our amazing supporters to give this one last try. If we are a successful then it’ll make big improvements to what we already offer – widening the audience area, giving customers much better visibility and increasing our capacity to 200. We’re truly excited to get stuck in.

“We hope that with the right support we can ride through this difficult moment, and rebuild The Cellar for future generations to enjoy.”

Oxford Mail:

The venue’s plight was raised earlier this week at a meeting of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, with former Oxford rapper ShoaDow telling MPs about the importance of the venue when building his own career.

Founded as a music venue in 1998, The Cellar has played host to artists as diverse as Mumford & Sons, Friendly Fires, Noah & The Whale, Afrika Bambaataa and Dawn Penn, as well as numerous club nights and shows by comedians from Stewart Lee (who played one of his first gigs at the venue) and former comedy partner Richard Herring, to Russells Howard and Caine.

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